Here’s a trick question: What do the four semi-finalists at this year’s FIFA World Cup have in common?

Any guesses?

It can’t be the number of match wins, as all of them have either drawn or lost a game en route to the last four. Neither can it be a common confederation, as they are from three different confederations (UEFA, CAF and CONMEBOL).

Well, to get to the answer, we’ll need to zoom in on their various technical benches and have a look at their coaches.

All four coaches — Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni, Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic, Morocco’s Walid Regragui and France’s Didier Deschamps — are natives of the countries they are at the helm of.

Is this a victory for national team football? Let’s examine its significance.

Something to chew on: If a national team is supposed to be a presentation of the best a nation has to offer on the field, why do we often find foreign nationals leading them from the bench?

It’s 2022, almost 160 years since modern football began — is football coaching still so exclusive that it remains the preserve of foreign tacticians in most cases?

To be honest, there shouldn’t be a valid excuse in this day and age for a national team — built on the ideals of native representation — to feature a coach who is not a native.

If the argument for hiring foreigners is their competence and ability to be competitive, why aren’t nations allowed to similarly hire competent and competitive players from other nations then? National teams are limited to fully native players or players with family links to the country they represent, no matter how good or bad they are, so why should it be different for coaches?

The problem of having foreigners coaching natives is prevalent especially on the African continent, a practice that definitely has its roots in the spirit of colonialism. The irony is that the greatest coaching achievements in the history of Africa’s flagship competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, have been by native coaches. Ghana’s Charles Kumi ‘C.K’ Gyamfi led the Black Stars to three titles in 1963, 1965 and 1982, and so did Egypt’s Hassan Shehata in 2006, 2008 and 2010 for the Pharaohs.

And it is same for the greatest competition in the world: The FIFA World Cup. Since its inception in 1930, every single winner of the Mundial has had a native coach. In fact, at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, out of the nine nations that entered with foreign coaches, eight of them were eliminated at the Group phase, the only exception being South Korea, coached by Portugal’s Paulo Bento. Hosts Qatar, Ecuador, Iran, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Belgium, and Canada all found out that foreign coaches don’t necessarily bring to the table the competence that the countries insinuate their local coaches lack.

Indeed, Africa’s greatest achievement at the FIFA World Cup in history is Morocco’s semi-final berth this year, and it is a local coach who has made it happen. Morocco’s 47-year-old coach Wahid Regragui has done what Valery Nepomnyashchy (Russia), Bruno Metsu (France) and Milovan Rajevac (Serbia) couldn’t do for Cameroon (1990) Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) respectively.

The obsession with foreign coaches smacks of the commercialization of national team football, blurring the lines between this sacred sphere of the sport and the cut-throat world of club football, where money and competitiveness combine to form the holy grail. If international football cannot maintain pride and patriotism as its raison d’etre, then it is as good as dead or irrelevant. There cannot be a distinction between nation and club if the standards are manipulated to be the same.

An argument we often hear for foreign coaches is that competence should not be sacrificed on the altar of native sentiments. But here’s the thing: after many decades of football advancement, is there any country that can genuinely claim not to have at least a single competent coach at any point in time? And let’s even, for the sake of playing the devil’s advocate, assume that there aren’t competent locals: can they not be trained? Did foreign coaches fall from the sky already made? Were they not trained too?

It is very bizarre for some nations to admit that when it comes to coaching, they lack the resources to put at the helm of their national teams. The outsourcing of coaching to foreign experts can never make sense within the context of international football. It is downright ridiculous, if not incongruous. Imagine a country bringing in a foreigner to be its president, or an FA looking outside their country to hire a chairman.

In 2008, when the English FA took an unusual decision to hire Italian Fabio Capello to coach their national team, the response it generated from then FIFA president Sepp Blatter was profound. Capello was only England’s second foreign hire in 62 years, amidst 12 managers.

Blatter’s sins as FIFA boss are well documented, but his reaction to the Capello appointment was on the money, showing his understanding of the sport, even if it made him come across as a conservative.

“England have broken a principle of international football by not choosing an Englishman,” Blatter opined in an interview with the BBC.

“I have never seen Italy, Germany, Brazil or Argentina (the most successful World Cup teams) with a coach from another country. In fact, most of the best teams have a coach from their own country. I would say it is a little surprising that the motherland of football has ignored a sacrosanct law or belief that the national team manager should be from the same country as the players.”

There was a time in the past when it made sense for nations to hire foreigners because they lacked trained indigenes. Ghana, for instance, between 1958 and 1962, hired an Englishman (George Ainsley), a Swede (Andrea Sjoberg) and a Hungarian (Josef Ember) to lay the foundations of technical development. This was because there were no officially trained local coaches. But a plan was put in place to concurrently train locals to eventually take over. This was as a result of the ‘Africanization’ policy of Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah, who in the wake of Ghana gaining independence from British colobial rule, sought to put Ghanaians in charge of Ghanaian institutions.

This was the program that gave birth to C.K Gyamfi’s ascension to the national team bench, eventually earning Ghana three Afcon titles.

There must be meaning to the expression ‘national’ in every sense and level. The way a country gets to exhibit its finest footballing talent is the same way they have to exhibit their finest technical brains. Not only is this fair, it is an adherence to the core ideals that make international football what it is.

No wonder club football at the elite level lacks a presence of black coaches, for instance. Opportunities aren’t being given to them in their own countries to showcase their prowess, which would advertise and catapult them into bigger jobs at club level.

It is imperative for FIFA to put its foot down and enforce a rule that disallows countries from importing coaches. The appetite for foreign managers is taking the soul out of international football, and it ought to be checked.